Practice of the Week
Category: Slogans to Live By: Carry these reminders at all times. These practices don't require setting aside a separate substantial chunk of time -- but they will slow you down a bit (and that's a good thing.) Resolve to get stronger at living by these maxims, day by day. Sometimes make one of them the focus of your daily journaling.
Adapted from Norman Fischer, Training in Compassion, "Don't Figure Others Out," and "Don't Talk About Faults," and Judith Lief, "Don't Ponder Others," and "Don't Talk About Injured Limbs."
Who could ever understand another person? We don’t understand ourselves! There is so much going on in our mind -- all sorts of contradictory and underappreciated phenomena – so how could we seriously believe we can figure out someone else?Judith Lief: Don't ponder others.
Yet think of all the time we spend analyzing and discussing our friends and relatives, as if we knew what was going on with them, as if we had a real line on them and their problems. Who can fathom what makes another person tick?
Jack Himmelstein (Center for Understanding in Conflict), says: "We judge ourselves by our intentions; we judge others by the effects of their actions on us." This is one reason we so often come out on the righteous side of our conflicts: we think we know our own inmost intentions (and we are often wrong); we assume the intentions of others based on our understanding of their outward acts (and we are usually wrong).
Instead, when you find yourself thinking about someone else's motives, needs, or feelings, catch yourself and remember that you don't really know what someone else is thinking or feeling, so you are better off assuming ze is doing zir best and that everyone is on the same human journey you are on. Maybe at the moment zir journey is leading zir down some nasty dark alley ways. Practicing this slogan, repeating it to ourselves frequently, even in the midst of controversy with others, trains the mind to recall that we hardly know what is in our own heart, let alone someone else’s.
Yes, there are times when it may be a good idea to try to imagine what someone else is feeling, thinking, needing, or wanting. But when we do that, in the light of this slogan, we do it with humility, knowing that we may be mistaken.
It is easy, entertaining, and totally distracting to muse about what is wrong with everybody else. The habit of faultfinding is part of a larger pattern of insecurity in which we always feel the need to compare ourselves to other people. It is as though we need to convince ourselves that we are okay, which we can only do indirectly, in comparison to people who are less okay.Norman Fischer: Don't talk about faults.
Strangely, when you are not afraid to uncover your own flaws, and you are not constantly comparing yourself to others, it is a great relief. When you look at yourself, you no longer have to convince yourself of anything and you have nothing to hide. And when you look at other people, you are not doing so with the ulterior motive of using what you see to prop up your own feeling of superiority and virtue.
Suppose for one week you didn’t, under any circumstances, discuss the faults of others. You would probably discover with some shock how much of what you say (and hear) involves in one way or another discussing the faults of others.Judith Lief: Don't talk about injured limbs.
Although we all indulge this sort of seemingly innocent judgmentalism, it also makes us nervous. What are the others saying about us when we are not around? So the person who doesn't do this, who seems to be consistently supportive and forgiving, stands out. If you could actually refrain from this kind of speech entirely, you would become an unusually likeable person.
When someone is acting badly -- being nasty, obnoxious, corrupt, cruel, stupid, or incompetent -- speaking of that person's faults in a harsh or critical way doesn't help. It generally makes a bad situation worse. Such criticism makes the person upset, feel attacked, which inspires zir to continue on in the same vein.
Everyone who acts or speaks destructively, foolishly. or incompetently is like a person with an injured limb. We don't criticize someone for having an obvious injury like a deformed hip or stumps for arms. Likewise, let us not be critical of the person with an inner injury that is the ultimate cause of zir poor conduct. We can recognize the injury and the limitations that it engenders and respect them.
Speaking to or about a wounded, nasty person with kindness and warmth—when the person has been conditioned by almost all of his or her relationships to expect the opposite—may cause surprising transformation. This is hard to do if you can’t imagine what the injury would be. But remember: there's an injury behind every fault. So condition yourself, little by little, to speak differently. If you need to correct them, speak with sympathy. Such people need to figure out how to heal their wounds someday, and harsh words will not help. It won't inspire them, you, or other listeners.
Rather than dwelling on what is wrong with people, which only exaggerates and perpetuates their weaknesses, remember that they are doing the best they can. Accept them as they are.
This slogan does not imply that you should not notice the problems or deformities people have, or that you should pretend everything is okay. The point is to examine how you react to such things.
Judging people distances ourselves from them. It’s a subtle rejection of them. Yet we tend to dwell on faults because we are both fascinated and repulsed by other people’s faults, weaknesses, abnormalities.
Combine awareness with acceptance. Take people, no matter what condition they are in, at face value pure and simple. When you see people in this straightforward way, you are not embarrassed by their ugliness, weakness, or infirmity. Instead, you simply meet them where they are.
PracticeAs you go about your day, with the people you encounter, pay attention to what comes up in your mind. Pay particular attention to the qualities of comparison mind and faultfinding mind. What is the difference between simply seeing a flaw and dwelling on it or using it to prop yourself up?
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